My FY2021 Budget Vote

At 4:15 a.m. on June 17th, the Council finished its all-night meeting addressing the 2020-2021 budget and companion tax levy. The budget passed by a vote of 32-8 and raised property taxes by 33.8% This means that for residents in the General Services District (GSD), taxes will increase by $1.033 per $100 of assessed value, and for residents in the Urban Services District (USD), taxes will increase by $1.066, per $100 of assessed value. 57% of District 34 properties are in the GSD and the 43% are in the USD. The new budget took effect on July 1.

Two months later, I’m still frustrated with the budget that ultimately “won” my vote. I share your disappointment, and know it’s reprehensible to elevate property taxes by 34% in any single year, and all the more so in the midst of the economic uncertainty Nashvillians are enduring. No one feels good voting for a marginally “less bad” budget, especially when there is multi-faceted disagreement about which budget is better or worse and why. With three proposed substitutes and over 30 potential amendments of varying viability, scale and impact, the FY2021 budget was a moving target of pros and cons for me till the very last minute.

Our marathon Council meeting to vote on the budget was the culmination of a six-week, entirely on-line process of unusually short department hearings, a very lengthy public hearing and independent amendment drafting that was the most difficult budget season in my service on the Council. There is so much potential to support and grow the good in our city government, but we remain stuck, for now, with a “maintenance of effort” budgeting process. The inertia of the status quo is strong and departments might add or subtract a person here or there in a meager attempt to “improve,” but often more significant programmatic and structural change is needed to help deliver beneficial and lasting changes in the community.

Is the Tax Increase Because of COVID?

Delays in addressing over a decade of accruing financial decisions is a heavy burden for our departments and our City. Previous administrations had been borrowing internally from other funds balances, selling real-estate assets, deferring debt service and compounding the fiscal reckoning. Accordingly, Briley’s FY2020 budget had a $40 million hole in it to be filled over the last year. The projected loss of $300 million in revenues due to COVID-19 made a reckoning unavoidable. Nashville’s well-diversified economy still relies heavily on tourism in our revenue calculations, but what makes this time especially awful from a fiscal management standpoint, is that already compounding fiscal problems and can-kicking converged with COVID-19 uncertainties. COVID is contributing, but it’s not “the reason.”

Does This Budget Show Ever Get Better?

Good process and transparency are fundamental to good governance. Nashville has a mayor-dominant system, and in past years, the Council has been in the dark on certain fiscal matters as much as citizens.  It’s been a bit like being in a mystery show when members of the cast are finding patterns and clues, but can’t put them all together in time or convince enough people to stop and avoid the disaster. The key after the show ends is for the audience to keep watching closely and stay engaged as critics and participants.

Meanwhile, the rest of the year….

As your representative, I’m working year-round on matters with fiscal implications. I am working to improve ethics in procurement, accountability in spending, and to right-size departments and programs to deliver the level of performance that we as tax-payers should expect. I also continue to lead some of the Council’s most complex county-wide legislative efforts, which elevate our development standards, requiring developers to deliver more infrastructure from sidewalks to trees, which will make our city more environmentally and fiscally sustainable in the decades to come.

The budget vote receives the most attention each year, but it is not the only way in which I am representing and serving you. While you and I may have disagreed on this budget vote, we have likely agreed and will agree on many more votes. To those who have called and emailed in frustration, I heard you loud and clear, and did my best to respond to you all, but I know I missed some replies. The volume of messages was, understandably, especially high this year. Whenever possible, I called you to discuss the budget by phone, and those were good, sometimes difficult, and often lengthy conversations. District 34 residents have challenging questions and helpful suggestions–as always, I welcome your opinions, and our discussions inform my voting and my communication.

Video Window on Amending the Budget

I also heard clearly from Nashvillians over the last term a concern about corporate incentives. I have decried corporate incentives and the cronyism of special deals and imbalanced infrastructure participation agreements for preferred developers and corporations for five years, so all three of my proposed budget amendments to the budget addressed this policy area. For a glimpse into how I tried to improve this budget and our problematic process, please watch this short video from the budget meeting, as I make the case for my Amendment #24.

Given a crisis budget year, Amendment #24 zeroed out all $1.5 million in remaining annual “per job” corporate incentives. According to the Director of Finance, my proposed cuts were “draconian,” and I was “villainizing” corporations. Not true–all “per job” incentives were/are written with NO annual obligation by the City. They all have standard language indicating that they are conditional on availability of funds and the Council’s budgetary appropriation. There was zero legal concern about taking a hiatus this year, which Metro Legal confirmed. So, if we can’t cut this small, unnecessary amount out of our budget, when we are facing a supposed $300 million revenue shortfall and raising everyone’s taxes over 30%, what does that tell you about the majority of the Council’s willingness and ability to cut anything at all? 

Please read this Tennessean article to learn more about the incentives Metro has paid out over the last three fiscal years (averaging $31M/year).

I think we could and should have made more cuts in this budget. I tried with my amendments packages to cut at least 5% out of each of the final two budgets before us, but unless 21 people on the Council agree with you, it is impossible for anyone other than the Budget & Finance chair to effectuate significant changes in the budget. But even so, I always try my best. My comprehensive amendments packages (one for the mayor’s budget and one for the chair’s substitute) failed to get the recommendation of the Budget & Finance Committee, but even so, I advanced them during the full Council meeting to make the point that bonus/optional programs should not be sacrosanct in lean times and also to have a debate about the wheel tax and elevate the Council and the public’s awareness of it.

Keep It Rolling. Wheel tax.

I think a modest increase in the annual, per vehicle wheel tax/licensing fee would have been a prudent way to lessen the impact of the property tax increase on single-income and fixed-income households, but several of my colleagues made assertions about it being a “regressive” tax and used a variety of “what-abouts?” for families with four cars. The actual impact of my proposal to that hypothetical four-car family, which is statistically more likely to be an affluent family, would have been just $52 a year.  By the way, property tax is even more regressive than an annual use tax that can be applied via the budget to the management and maintenance of our roadways and mitigation of traffic impacts. The wheel tax/licensing fee was last increased in 2005, along with the budget. There are 600,000 plus cars registered in Davidson County, so the modest increase of $12 that I proposed would have garnered $6.5 million annually, a 2-cent reduction in the property tax  increase. A $24 increase, would have garnered $14 million more annually and a 4-cent reduction, and so on. (I hope that we can keep this conversation going as we discuss the next transit plan and how to fund much-needed road safety initiatives.)

Alternatives? Frequent Questions:

  • What about furloughs and layoffs? While I think various departments could have implemented some surgical furloughs, on the whole this would cripple city services. Most (not all) of the departments with which I interact closely are understaffed. Public Works has the same number of employees today that it had 20 years ago.
  • What about using federal funding from the CARES Act ($121M)? This money is stipulated for virus response. It cannot be used to supplement lost revenue or for expenses that were existing prior to the virus in our operating budget.
  • Could we raise the local option sales tax? This requires a voter referendum.
  • Could we charge impact fees on developers? State law does not allow this.
  • Could we issue more debt? Nashville already has $3.4B in outstanding debt (note that the entire state of TN has $1.7B in debt). Our annual debt service payments of about $343M are already approaching 15% of our operating budget.

The final vote. Why?

Ultimately, after all the amendments were considered, I voted for the Council’s substitute budget, rather than voting no and letting the Mayor’s proposed budget, which differed by 1-2%, become law. The budget I voted for had a compromise amendment that ensured funding for the implementation of the first phase of body-worn cameras and training of the next class of police officers. It also included $450K to open all Parks Department community centers on Saturday mornings and $15 an hour for the paraprofessionals who work in the classroom supporting the education of students with the highest needs. Discretionary spending for all departments in both budgets was cut the same 50%.

Tax Freeze Program Participation Up

The Metro Trustee’s Office administers this program for seniors 65 and older with annual incomes below $43,810, which allows applicants to freeze their property tax rate before the issuance of tax bills. Metro Council members, myself included, communicated frequently about this freeze option in anticipation of a property tax increase. This year, Metro extended the annual application deadline from April to July 1, subsequent to the passage of the budget. For District 34, this deadline extension and additional time during and after the budget for me to communicate with senior constituents and encourage them to apply, meant participation in the tax freeze program went up 23% this year, but still just 103 households in District 34 qualified for this relief.

A Marker for Accountability

Key to my vote for CM Mendes’ budget was that we included a provision that requires Metro’s Finance Director to submit by August 15th an updated report on the city’s revenues for the last quarter of FY2020. This was so that in case the city brought in more money than expected, Metro Council would have the opportunity to adjust the tax levy before tax bills go out on October 1st.  While revenue projections were actually $100M above his department’s estimate for March, April & May, the Finance Director chose not revise his revenue estimate for FY2021. You can read his report here.

*As I was finishing writing this, I touched base with the new financial analyst in the Council Office. Reported last week, “other” tax revenues, which include alcohol and gas tax among others, are now in for June, along with final sales tax revenues and all together they are off just 8.7% from last year. May revenue which we did not yet have in the budget process was only down 0.73% from 2019. Sales + other tax revenues were down just 2.4% overall from last year.

Last Best Effort, My Amended Levy

In July, after much consideration and in an effort to prudently, lower the property tax burden for Nashvillians during these extraordinary times, and to honor the marker that we put down for an August review of actual and projected revenues and consideration of an amended levy, I requested legislation for a 5% reduction to the current tax levy, which would have meant…

  • a 92 cent property tax increase for USD residents instead of $1.06
  • an 89 cent property tax increase for GSD residents instead of $1.03

My substitute tax levy would have changed the 34% increase to a 29% increase, a modest reduction of $46 million in property tax revenue. (Every cent of tax increase = $3.32M of property tax revenue.) This would have been lower than the 12% decrease which was put forward in Councilman Glover’s bill. Council voted in support of my substitute bill to replace CM Glover’s bill, 32-8, but the vote on my bill as substituted failed 15-24, with 1 abstention. This was unfortunate because the bill was only on the first of three readings (pulled from consent by Councilman Mendes) and four more weeks till the final reading on September 1 would have brought more financial information to inform the analysis of a modest reduction in the levy.

Failure of my reduced levy was a frustrating conclusion to an extended budget season, but I wanted you to know that I did everything within my power to effectuate a lower rate for FY2021. Every year we pass a new budget and every year we are able to set a new tax rate to fund that budget. Next year is a reappraisal year, which by state law requires that the tax rate be made revenue neutral again.

To calculate the effect of the FY2021 tax levy for your household, here is the formula:

  • For the USD tax rate of $4.221: $600,000 (appraised value) x 25% (assessment ratio) = $150,000 (assessed value) ÷ 100 (per $100 assessed) x $4.221 (tax rate) = $6,331/year or $527/month
  • For the GSD tax rate of $3.788: $600,000 (appraised value) x 25% (assessment ratio) = $150,000 (assessed value) ÷ 100 (per $100 assessed) x $3.788 (tax rate) = $5,682/year or $473/month

Powerful People

Council rarely exercises the little influence and power that the Charter affords us, especially on matters of oversight and budgeting. Per the Charter, the Director of Finance has the sole authority to attest to availability of funds and to project revenues. The Council should NOT project revenues, but in a system of checks and balances, we should do independent financial analysis of projected revenue, ask good questions of the Finance Director and his staff, and expect detailed answers. We cannot abdicate our duty to push for better.

On August 4th, with pressure from the Director of Finance and the Chair of the Budget & Finance Committee, from my perspective, 24 council members threw in the towel prematurely on the possibility of a very modest tax reduction. The good news: 16 did not. Sixteen members were willing to keep the conversation going and the options open. Cold comfort though it is, this is progress. If we facilitate more constructive conversations, Council and the community learn more about our city’s financial history and current position, and that is never a bad thing. It is your money. When it comes to Metro’s finances, your elected representatives must take nothing for granted, be more skeptical, ask more questions, and keep pushing.

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  • Written by angie henderson

Homes Not Hotels

I sent the following letter to the Metro Council this morning as we contemplate the final meeting of our term with several controversial bills before us, including BL2019-1633, which attempts to address 24/7 mini-hotels in residential zoning, but as currently drafted creates as many problems as it purports to solve. I have a compromise, “second substitute” bill that I hope colleagues will consider seriously.

Dear Colleagues,

I cannot believe how swiftly four years have passed. It has been an honor to work with you all to help make Nashville better, safer, healthier, and happier to the best of our abilities. I think we would all acknowledge that strong neighborhoods are the building blocks of our city. In our term, one issue that has affected a wide variety of neighborhoods and constituents from the single-family suburbs of District 34 to the multi-family apartments of District 19 is Not-Owner-Occupied Short Term Rentals. This Council did not enable this annual permitted use–it was the prior Council, but we have certainly struggled with the unintended consequences. I hope together we can achieve a resolution this evening. 

I want to bring your attention to one of two proposed second substitutes in the amendments packet and put the Henderson/Hagar/Johnson substitute (pages 13-17) in context of 1) this term’s broader STRP policy struggles and 2) the various options that are before you for consideration. 

Not-Owner-Occupied STRP-permitted properties have been a mounting problem for neighborhood quality of life and housing affordability in Nashville and numerous cities with thriving tourist economies across the U.S. and the world. Increasingly we have seen that the benefits of the annually permitted not-owner-occupied STRP use to guests, owners, and the tourist economy are outweighed by the damage to neighborhoods, quality of life, and housing affordability. This is acute in neighborhoods closest to downtown and areas near popular tourist destinations. Every city struggles with the appropriate regulatory balance for these low-barrier-to-entry, disruptor business platforms, but the platforms control the narrative and with it the related-policy with millions in lobbying and marketing money. 

I would remind colleagues of the same thing Councilman O’Connell and I said when we voted against the enabling scooter legislation: legislating for disruptive and hyper-evolving business models requires sunset provisions. There is no accountability or reckoning without them. So here we are in the sunset of our term, and we have the opportunity to sunset new Not-Owner-Occupied short term rental in RM zoning. Sunsetting STRP annual permits in residential-only zoning, whether that’s R, RS or RM, will not diminish the underlying appreciating real estate asset. The primary use of the property as zoned has always been and remains residential. Taking thousands of homes off the market and turning them into 24/7 mini-hotels via an annual permitted use is something that we can and should fix.

The onus is not on us to make sure that a speculative real estate investment garners it’s maximum return. The onus is on the buyer to perform due diligence before making their purchase. Basing an investment on a one-year permit in a hyper-evolving and contentious business model has risks. This would be clearly evident to any investor with a quick Google search.

Subsequent to the passage of 608, which addressed Not-Owner-Occupied STRPs in R and RS zoning, we have seen and heard from numerous Nashvillians distraught that their RM apartment community is being converted into an STRP hotel. As we close out this term, let’s start closing the door on this practice. Our Council securing places for people to live is more fundamental to our success as a city than our securing commercial hotel investments in residentially zoned neighborhoods. Real estate investors will tell you that markets like certainty, and they are correct about that. So let’s provide that certainty. Let’s substitute and thus simplify this legislation.

The Henderson/Hagar substitute, which is supported by the Coalition for Nashville Neighborhoods does the following:

•                     Returns the bill essentially to the form it was in when it unanimously passed the Planning Commission (before it was subsequently amended and substituted.)

•                     Eliminates exemptions and transfers for RM zoned properties. This is key. Passage of 1633 in its current form will effectively make an annual permit a property right.

•                     Extends the window to acquire a new permit from May 31, 2020 to January 1, 2022 to address the concerns of in-progress investors and balance the removal of the exemptions and transfers.

•                     Keeps all necessary state law changes and includes the language to deal with lawsuits pending against Metro for HPRs who were issued STRP permits before July 1, 2019

I know that Councilwoman Allen’s heart was in the right place with 1633, and it was a bill initially supported by neighborhood leaders albeit with some skepticism, but you have heard the email furor from neighborhood advocates about this bill as currently substituted and amended. That’s not just because it reflects concessions primarily for speculative builder/investors, but because the exception and transfer provisions could have very real negative consequences for both RM and R & RS zoning districts. It sets a bad precedent and does not provide the clear and definitive policy statement that Nashville’s residents and real estate investors want and need.  

As we conclude our term and our deliberation on this policy, let’s please think more about the parents living next to not-owner-occupied short-term-rentals and have empathy for the anxiety they feel every Thursday waiting to see who is going to show up and be hanging out across the back fence or on the deck above their children’s playset. Let’s think more about the young couples, who are going to have to move out of their downtown apartment close to their work to the periphery of the county to find an affordable place to live, compounding our traffic problem, because their residential apartment community is being turned into a hotel.

Nashvillians are watching. They are no longer fooled by the false and self-serving narratives proffered by this industry. Please show the majority of Nashvillians who you represent by supporting and voting in favor of the Hagar/Henderson/Johnson substitute.

Our substitute is solid and thoughtful bill that meets the needs and concerns of a wide variety of districts and stakeholders. We did not file it rashly. We co-sponsors have followed this issue very closely our entire term, and our substitute reflects four years of listening and researching a broad variety of cities and stakeholder perspectives.

Hard though it may seem, if Councilwoman Allen were to simply let go of her much-maligned bill, which it does not appear she has the votes to pass, moving the Henderson/Hagar/Johnson substitute would honor her legislative intent and achieve the majority of her policy goals. Complicated though this seems, it’s really quite simple. Let’s not give up on Nashville’s neighborhoods at the finish line.

With thanks for your consideration,

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  • Written by angie henderson

Speak for the Trees

District 34 is home to numerous ash trees (examples above), which are now threatened due to the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), an invasive beetle species. This insect will have a devastating effect on our community’s tree canopy, with almost all untreated ash trees expected to die by 2026. It is estimated that up to 10% of Nashville’s tree canopy is ash trees, and in many District 34 neighborhoods, the percentage of the canopy is much higher. Ash trees can be found throughout the district in parks, neighborhoods, school campuses, cultural sites, along city streets and in private yards. There are 241 ash trees on the 55 acres at Cheekwood, for example, and my own street adjacent to Cheekwood is a veritable grove of beautiful, tall ash trees. Sadly, the loss of ash trees will be both visible and palpable for many District 34 neighborhoods.

In partnership with the Metro Tree Advisory Committee, Metro Public Works and Cheekwood, I am hosting a District 34 Community Meeting about the Emerald Ash Borer epidemic on Wednesday, July 10th, 7:00 – 8:00 PM at Cheekwood in the Potter Room in Botanic Hall. This will be a concise informational meeting to make sure you know exactly what an ash tree looks like and all the options you have to address their impending demise in your neighborhood and/or at your home. If you have a big, healthy ash tree, you may still be able to save it through trunk treatments. Other ash trees, which become brittle and hazardous as they die, will need to be removed, or if they are in a wooded area and not a hazard, they can be left to die in place.

The loss of ash trees will have a significant impact on private and public property in the coming years, however this past year, I found that many Nashvillians had not yet heard of this looming epidemic. This spring, I filed a resolution to help raise awareness in our community and within Metro Government. The death of so many large canopy trees will have an impact on both the Public Works and Parks Department budgets and the impact to stormwater runoff will also be challenging for Metro’s Stormwater Division. Click here to read the resolution.

Additional Resources & Information:

During my first term in office, it has been my privilege to work with the Metro Tree Advisory Committee, Nashville Tree Foundation, Nashville Tree Task Force, and numerous advocates for trees on community tree plantings–most recently along Page Road in District 34, where the “kissing canopy” has been compromised by two major straight-line wind events and along which there are numerous ash trees. Trees can serve as traffic calming–when planted close to the street, they narrow a drivers cone of vision and reduce speeding. Along Page Road, Metro’s horticulturist worked with neighbors to strategically place the new trees in areas of impending ash loss.

Root Nashville, a public/private campaign, is led by Metro Nashville Government and the Cumberland River Compact. Root Nashville’s goal is to plant 500,000 trees across Davidson County by 2050. All the trees from community plantings are recorded on the Root Nashville website, and if you plant a tree(s) at your own home, please make sure you record it on the website also to help the city reach its goal. Stay tuned for the Metro Public Works tree sale in the fall, for great deals on trees and assistance in the planting and watering them.

In the last two years of this term, I’m also proud to have been the lead sponsor on Nashville’s first tree-related legislation in 10 years. BL2018-1416 was highly technical and complicated and took many months working with Metro Planning staff and stakeholders to reach consensus. The bill as substituted and amended had a positive public hearing on July 2 and is now on track to pass third and final reading on July 16th. “The tree bill” will better incentivize mature tree retention and street trees and require more tree density in commercial and multi-family development. This is just the first in a series of bills that will work in concert with each other to deliver a more consistent, comprehensive and effective approach to urban forestry in Nashville.

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

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  • Written by angie henderson

2019 Budget Breakdown

Why I didn’t vote for a property tax increase.

It was a challenging week on Metro Council, with mixed opinions on the various proposed budgets (the most substitute budgets filed by the Council in Metro’s history) and a wide variety of needs and wants to balance and consider. Several of my constituents are disappointed because I did not vote for what they believed was a much-needed, 15.8% property tax increase. While it saddens me to disappoint any constituent, and I understand their concerns, I also know that the majority of my constituents agree with my decision to vote no.

There are more people over age 70 living in District 34 than anywhere else in Nashville, and I heard from a lot of them last week. A senior residing in a modest ranch home on our district’s typically large lots is paying around $4,000 in property taxes at the current rate. The Vercher substitute budget would have increased their annual taxes $630. Some will say, that’s a small price to pay for all the benefits within the budget, but I have to think closely about the impact on the people I represent and be mindful that in other areas of Nashville with exponentially appreciating home values, a sharply rising and regressive property tax is an even greater burden, contributing to the gentrification of core neighborhoods and pushing more people to reside on the periphery of Davidson County and beyond.

I also heard from several constituents asking me to raise their taxes. I appreciate these constituents’ willingness to increase their personal tax burden for the collective good of our schools. While this was a clear vote for my head, this was a difficult vote for my heart because I know that our Metro teachers and employees feel under valued and under appreciated with just a 3% cost of living adjustment (COLA) in the mayor’s budget, when they were already due 3% last year. Chair Vercher’s budget delivered a 4% COLA and one pay “step” increase for MNPS employees, but just a 3% COLA for general Metro employees. The Council eagerly awaits the MNPS pay study and the School Board’s work in this area, as it is clear that teachers have long been dissatisfied with the current pay structure.

Numerous departments and constituencies had items in the Vercher substitute budget that they wanted, that were good things, but those goods have to be balanced against the larger budgetary and economic impacts. For example, the Vercher budget added 20 new positions to the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD), which sounds beneficial, until you realize that there are currently over 80 MNPD positions un-filled. Personally, I wanted another urban forestry position in the Codes Department. I know from my work on tree-related policy that we are far behind peer cities and this position is much needed. This was a budget request that I personally coordinated. Chair Vercher kindly added it to her substitute budget, but as passionate as I am about tree-policy work, that still did not convince me to vote for this budget.

There’s no one solution to Metro’s budget woes. I agree that we will likely need a slight tax rate adjustment to get back on track after the last three mayors abdicated their responsibility to adjust the rate to keep revenue, spending and debt obligations in balance. That said, I disagree that a rate adjustment of the magnitude proposed, a $0.498 cent increase per $100 of assessed value, a 15.8% rate increase, is appropriate at this time. A rate adjustment should not be so significant that Metro Government is disincentivized from addressing systemic/structural problems and making the heavier, more complicated policy lifts. Before we consider raising property taxes, which have the greatest impact on lower-income individuals, we must:

  1. address the revenue capture in the “downtown” tourism zone (TDZ).
  2. advance a referendum within the next two years for a fundamentals-first transportation plan with dedicated funding for sidewalks, greenways, bikeways, & a truly excellent bus system.
  3. be pro-active and intentional about implementing business improvement districts (BID) in our suburban centers to supplement funding for the specific operational and capital needs of those areas.
  4. elevate ethics in procurement.
  5. reform tax increment financing (TIF).
  6. better address the impact and lessen the use of incentives and abatements for preferred real estate developers and corporations.

These are just some of the structural, policy changes we need to make, and I do not believe we should raise the property taxes of individual citizens so significantly until Metro Government gets our proverbial house in order. (For more details on the list above, please see the “Getting Our House in Order” blog post). There are so many awesome folks in Metro Government doing solid work for our citizens. I am grateful to them, and saddened that the rocky leadership in the Mayor’s Office, and the doubts and concerns that creates, continues to influence the willingness of taxpayers to invest more money in the Bank of Metro.

However they feel about mayoral leadership over this term, the majority of the Council agrees that Metro Government’s budgeting process is broken. Despite our thick budget books and 55 departmental budget hearings, much of our large departments’ budgets remain opaque. It is only through years of intentional engagement that council members begin to notice patterns in legislative and budget related discussions and start making specific requests for organizational charts and financial reports. In so doing, members of our various committee’s come to better understand the inner workings and budgetary needs of the departments to better deliver the services that citizens need and want. This requires an inordinate amount of time and effort, and questions of the council members are often met with skepticism and concerns of micro-management.

Given the constraints the Council has, I am grateful to Councilman Mendes for his budget work, to Councilman Glover for trying to provide a budget with a lower tax increase to honor the COLA, and to Budget & Finance Committee Chair Vercher for all her hard work. For one person to have to revise and compile a massive budget in virtual isolation with small inputs for changes and additions from other council members via staff, when the mayor has a massive finance department and months and months at his disposal to prepare his budget, is ridiculous. Our mayor-dominant system does not serve our citizens well. The Council does not, but can and should, make better use of its committee system to divide the work needed for comprehensive departmental oversight, meeting policy goals, and delivering a budget that reflects the collective will of our body and the citizens we represent.

When a budget fails by one vote, it’s very easy for those who are disappointed to direct their ire at any one particular Council member. Nashvillians who are mad at the Council for not passing the substitute budget with the tax increase, should remember also that the mayor lobbied against it and likely would have vetoed it. If you want better budgeting and fiscal stewardship, elect a better mayor and elect council members with the independence to vote against unsound deals. For good or bad, with our “strong-mayor” form of government, Nashville is where it is at any particular time largely due to the deals and choices made inside the Mayor’s Office.

In service to you, I research, read, and listen to a variety of opinions and sources before all votes, especially one of this magnitude. I stand by my budget vote and am accountable for it and every vote that I have made in my service on the Council. I welcome you to contact me with your questions and concerns at or call me at 615-260-5530. I am always happy to discuss your Metro government with you.

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  • Written by angie henderson

Getting Our House in Order

I’ve been mixing my metaphors lately: houses, gambling, cleaning, stores, trains. “We’re off track.” “We need to clean house.” One day last week, I was thinking perhaps I should make an effort to dial down the use of metaphors in my remarks about Metro when a constituent said to me that it appeared to him that Metro had misplaced priorities and was putting a lot of energy into branding and marketing and less into fundamentals of governance.

“Indeed,” I said. “Recent mayors have put a lot of energy into highlighting programs & proclamations, but it would behoove the city if they would spend less time touting the admirable variety of merchandise in the display windows and more time paying attention to all the essential products being stolen out of the back of the store!” (A store metaphor, right off the top of my head–apparently, I’m a metaphor addict.)

My blog post about my budget vote was too loooong. I could already feel people falling asleep as I was typing it. One of the central points I was trying to make was that Metro needs to address several key, structural and policy issues before asking individual taxpayers to contribute more in property tax. I briefly listed several areas that need attention, and lest you think I did not expound upon them sufficiently in my other post, I decided to flesh them out a bit more here.

  1. Address the revenue capture in the tourism development zone (TDZ). Structured to provide dedicated tax revenue for operations and debt service on the new convention center, this zone is too large, extending well past downtown. It’s so large that the Convention Center Authority (CCA) is running a $100 million revenue surplus and using that surplus to fund parking garages in private development, like the recent $38 million contributed to the 5th & Broadway project. As negotiated by Metro, the CCA directed $10 million to the general fund this year. They may be able to provide more, but we also need to consider whether the boundaries of the TDZ need to be redrawn via legislation at the State. Learn more about the TDZ here:
  2. Advance a referendum ASAP within the next two years for a fundamentals-first transportation plan with dedicated funding for sidewalks, greenways, bikeways & a truly excellent bus system. This will open up at least $48 million in the annual operational budget. Mayor Barry’s gamble in 2017, when she didn’t adjust the tax rate (historically always a mayor-lead effort) so she could tout the “lowest tax rate ever” for the benefit of marketing her high-cost, low-return, debt-laden transit plan (which failed via referendum 2 to 1) is coming due. We cannot wait five years to advance a better more modest plan that will make a positive difference for more people.
  3. Be pro-active and intentional about implementing business improvement districts (BID) in our suburban centers to supplement funding for the specific operational and capital needs of those areas. In a sprawled city/county consolidated government like Nashville, BIDs allow these established business hubs, many with legacy chambers of commerce, to enhance infrastructure and services on their own, tailored terms. This is an important financial and community building tool that Nashville is so far only using in three areas. Learn more about BIDs here:
  4. Elevate ethics in procurement. Nashville has had several messy, major procurements this term first for the potential redevelopment of the park land that was home to the former Greer Stadium and most recently for the purchase and management of our on-street parking system, a plan most on Council oppose. In response to the Collier Engineering scandal, Mayor Briley hired a 100K position in the Mayor’s Office to address ethics in procurement. Fine, but at the same time, we should probably stop doing business with the corrupt contractors that sparked this work, no? Why is our city still doing business with a firm that we have verifiable proof stole money from taxpayers? Tolerance of grifters only begets more grifters.
  5. Reform tax increment financing (TIF). TIF can be an important tool when used as intended to catalyze development in depressed and blighted areas, but TIF was still being doled out for prime downtown real estate projects in 2017. Nashville’s real estate market is burning hot, and fires don’t need gasoline poured on them. (Metaphor alert) This needs to stop, and I appreciate Councilman Cooper and Councilman Mendes’ work to address this. Learn more about TIF in Nashville here:
  6. Address incentives and abatements for preferred developers and corporations. For per-job type incentives, we’re still paying half a million to Dell every year in our budget, apparently because no one in the Mayor’s Office or on the Council thought to put a reasonable time limit on that incentive when it passed in 1999. This year, I amended the Amazon per-job incentive bill, which I didn’t vote for, to cap them after 7 years. I opposed $15 million in infrastructure incentives for the Nashville Yards development, the $20 million un-itemized bucket in our capital spending plan for the River North development, and the 10-acre give away for a private, mixed-use development that was part of the soccer deal. Private development should pay for itself, full stop. Hopefully abatements are an incentive of the past, but the Omni Hotel is still abated to the tune of around $2 million per year, and the Bridgestone Americas downtown tower is receiving a 100 percent property tax abatement for 20 years, just to name a few. These decisions have accrued to the detriment of our general fund, basic services, and schools.

Metro Government needs to get our house in order, and I’m determined to help clean things up. If we address the issues listed above, we’ll be back on the right track. (I know, I know, cleaning house AND train tracks, but I told you at the start I was having a metaphor problem, so it was bound to show up in the conclusion.)

P.S. Please note that these blogs are far from research papers. Is there more to be said, more facts to be shared? Sure. But there’s only so much time in the day to serve my constituents, complete two major policy efforts (trees! sidewalks!), and campaign to continue to representing District 34. If you like what you read here, there’s also a contribution page on this website, and I’d be grateful for your support to continue serving on the city council. Next financial deadline is June 30th. Thanks very much!

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Angie in the News as a Policymaker

The Metro Council is your city’s legislative and oversight body. In my first term on Nashville’s Metro Council, I have served as chair of the Parks, Libraries & Arts Committee, vice chair of the Public Works Committee, and served on the Budget & Finance Committee. As a policymaker, my work has received local and national attention. To learn more about my service on the Council and my policy interests, please click the links below.

Angie calls out corruption:

Tennessean: Nashville Payments to Collier Engineering Firm for Two Liaisons Draws Scrutiny

Angie, a long-time transit advocate, breaks down her opposition to the 2018 transit plan:

Tennessean: Put the Real Cost of the Nashville Transit Plan on the Ballot

Angie sponsors and passes landmark sidewalk legislation:

Tennessean: Nashville to Require More Developers Provide Sidewalks

Angie speaks about the NFL Draft/Cherry Tree debacle, the tree bill, and the Emerald Ash Borer epidemic:

Newsmaker: Angie Henderson, Metro Council Dist.34, on Nashville Trees

Angie works with local Girl Scouts on a resolution honoring Josephine Holloway

Nashville Public Radio: How Nashville Girl Scouts Honored the Founder of a Pioneering Black Troop

Angie co-sponsors bill preventing Metro from selling land to plug holes in the operational budget:

Tennessean: Nashville Council Votes to Prohibit Selling Metro Land for Budget Fixes

Angie speaks to new harassment training requirements bill that she helped pass:

Nashville Public Radio: Metro To Require Contract Companies To Go Through Sexual Harassment Prevention Training

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Walkable Neighborhoods

Almost all neighborhoods are “walkable” to a certain degree, but in Nashville most are NOT safely or enjoyably walkable. If you live in District 34, can you safely walk to Radnor Lake or the Warner Parks? Probably not. Can you safely walk to the major artery where a transit line runs? Probably not. And if you can make it there, are you “rewarded” for your effort by standing in a ditch to wait for the bus? Probably.

Nashville has an inappropriately low level of infrastructure investment in neighborhoods. We already have many neighborhoods that are sufficiently dense, that have been pleading (for many years) for sidewalks on their walk green hills“collector” streets to safely connect them to adjacent commercial areas, parks, schools, and transit. Those neighborhoods should be served whether or not they choose to become more dense. In District 34, neighbors with .45 acres or less are our “denser neighborhoods.” My neighborhood has 300+ households within a half mile of restaurants, shops, a major park, a major community/tourist destination, and a transit line, but ZERO walkable infrastructure except around one townhouse infill project built 8+ years ago. It is completely illogical. Saying that more density will bring more walkability is a backwards conversation. Let’s improve the Sidewalk Priority Index and direct more funding to sidewalks. Let’s make smart, targeted sidewalk investments improving what we already have, and filling in gaps, both large and small, in the sidewalk network. We can and should build mixed-use walkable areas and transit-oriented development in strategic locations all over Nashville. There are opportunities for strategic infill, where neighbors support it, closer to major arteries and commercial areas, but “Density” should look different for every neighborhood.

To view my comprehensive answers from the Walk/Bike Nashville candidate survey, click here.

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Nashville Needs a Comprehensive & Actionable Transportation Plan (Yesterday).

In every other major city in which I have lived, I have been a daily transit rider. In San Francisco, I rode the bus (or the cable car!) to and from work 5 days a week. In New York, I rode the subway everywhere. In Philadelphia, I rode the train from the suburbs to downtown. When I was a child and lived on West End for a few years, I rode the bus with my mom and dad to 1975 Bus stopthe downtown library on Saturdays to attend the Tom Tichenor puppet shows and check out our weekly books. I remember those outings so fondly and vividly, and not just the library part, but also the awesome taking-the-bus part. I wish I could ride the bus more often in Nashville, but with infrequent service, too few crosstown routes, and no sidewalk to get me safely to the closest bus line (at the intersection of Highways 100 and 70), it doesn’t make sense for me. I drive my mini-van almost everywhere I go, and as the infamous bumper sticker reminds us: you’re not in traffic, you are traffic. The best solution to Nashville’s traffic problem is a truly multi-modal transit system.

Here is where I stand on transit:

Without a comprehensive, actionable, multi-modal transportation plan, including sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and greenways, Nashville’s economy and quality of life will be significantly diminished by our growing traffic problem. Addressing this issue will have to be done both locally and regionally. Building more highway lanes and widening major streets doesn’t solve the problem, rather it induces demand and makes the problem worse. It is encouraging to see that TDOT and Metro Public Works are increasingly focused on the multi-modal picture of transportation rather than exclusively on road building.

The Regional Transit Authority in partnership with the Metropolitan Planning Organization provides the frame work for regional transportation planning and funding. 54% of the people in the Nashville/Clarksville MSA are working in a county different than the one in which they live, so we must address regional transit by expanding coach-style buses and rail services. Partnering with surrounding counties to encourage mixed-use, transit-oriented development (to include housing) along the Music City Star rail line, for example, and doing the same in certain corridors in Nashville will keep communities connected and more cars off the road.

A strategic plan for MTA is long overdue, but I am optimistic about the new leadership of Stephen Bland and the nMotion planning process that is finally underway, which will build on the land-use planning work of NashvilleNEXT, as land-use planning and transit success are inextricably linked. I hope that all riders as well as non-riders (or would-be riders) and local employers and property owners will be actively engaged in the nMotion process. Take the next nMotion “trade offs” survey here.

MTA ridership is climbing consistently with 24% of current riders having started using the system in the last year. That’s good news, and we need to support and enhance that trend with the real-time transit app, better marketing and improved access and connectivity. Currently, MTA ridership is made up of 68% dependent riders and 32% choice riders. To address traffic issues, we must focus on increasing the choice rider percentage.

Transit is an important service for seniors and young people, but only 3% of MTA riders are over 65 and only 6% are under age 18. In a city of our size with our demographics, those percentages should be much higher, and this speaks to the fact that seniors and young people cannot not safely reach transit stops because of lacking sidewalk and crosswalk infrastructure.

With the current bus system still operating far below capacity, we must make more sidewalk connections to transit, and we must dignify the transit rider with clean shelters and safe crossings—people should not have to stand and wait in ditches inches from speeding cars and dash across 5 lanes of traffic to be able to ride the bus.

Near term initiatives/partnerships could include:

1) increasing and marketing transit service for special events (Predators games, 4th of July Fireworks, etc);

2) increasing park-and-ride options within suburban areas by partnering with local churches and shopping areas for parking; and

3) expanding the MNPS/MTA partnership to include free rides for middle schoolers in addition to high schoolers.


These are just a few of the small gains/improvements that should be considered as part of the larger county-wide and regional puzzle. In the end, the funding is the biggest piece and will be the most difficult part of the conversation, but I think Council can look to the successes of peer cities like Salt Lake City to see how they have communicated that increasing transit funding is crucial to maintaining and enhancing a city’s economy, health, affordability, and quality of life.

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Angie in the Green Hills News


Neighborhood Leader Angie Henderson Running for Metro Council District 34

Angie Emery Henderson has formalized her campaign for Nashville Metro Council’s District 34.  A leader in neighborhood, non-profit, and civic organizations throughout the city, Henderson currently serves as the president of the Belle Meade Highlands Neighborhood Association. A native Nashvillian and former resident of Forest Hills, Henderson has lived in a variety of District 34 neighborhoods.

“I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to apply my neighborhood leadership experience and skills to work on the Metro Council,” said Henderson at her campaign kick-off event. “Strong neighborhoods are the foundation of a great city, and I will work diligently to preserve the residential character and natural beauty that make District 34 so special. I will be a clear and consistent voice for the people of District 34 and help to thoughtfully and intelligently guide decisions that affect Nashville’s future.”

Henderson is a respected civic volunteer and long-time advocate for more safely walkable and bikeable neighborhoods. She was the founder and organizer of the annual “Walk! Green Hills” awareness event (formerly The Green Hills Walk at Lunch) that was a part of Walk Nashville Week (now Month) for twelve years, and chaired the inaugural Green Hills Historic Homecoming festival in partnership with Metro Archives, Hillsboro High School, and the Green Hills Library. Over the years, she has served as a chair and vice-chair of The Green Hills Action Partners (TGHAP), which was founded in 1999 by members of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee for the Green Hills Urban Village Plan, as well as chair for the group’s Transportation & Sidewalks Committee. Most recently, Henderson served on the Resource Team for the Green Hills Area Transportation Plan and on the planning committee for Walk/Bike Nashville’s Mayoral Candidates Forum on Walkability. She continues to serve on the Community Engagement Committee for the NashvilleNEXT 2040 planning process.

Henderson attended the Harpeth Hall School and was graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1995 with a degree in Growth & Structure of Cities, having defended her thesis on the architecture of public schools with Nashville as a case study.  Henderson is an active volunteer for her college, where she currently serves on the President’s Advisory Council and the Alumnae Regional Scholars Selection Committee. After college, Henderson worked in marketing for the architecture, engineering and planning firm Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill LLC and in fundraising for Dartmouth College where she was a Stewardship Writer and at Belmont University where she was Director of Foundation Relations.

Under Henderson’s leadership, membership in the Belle Meade Highlands Neighborhood Association (BMHNA) has increased over 40%. Henderson says, “prompt, helpful communication and thorough research are crucial when serving my neighbors, addressing their concerns, and advocating around matters of crime & safety, traffic, speeding, zoning, and needed infrastructure. And I intend to bring that same skill set to service on the Council”  Fellow neighbors are very complimentary of Henderson’s dedication and attention to detail. Former BMHNA Board Member and current Beautification Committee Chair Rob Harrington says, “Angie’s management style, leadership skills, and work ethic are exemplary. I’ve seen firsthand how she solicits input from all viewpoints, thoroughly considers all options, and makes thoughtful decisions that balance the interests of all constituents. I can’t imagine anyone more qualified than Angie to serve as a Metro Council member.”

In the first campaign finance report of January 15, Henderson’s treasurer Richard Dickerson reported that Friends for Angie Henderson had reported over $17,000 total raised, with just over $11,000 cash on hand. The next fundraiser for the campaign is coming up on March 3.

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Why I’m Running

Over the last few months and weeks, when I tell people that I am running to serve the 34th District on Metro Council, I’ve received very positive reactions—and after the initial “That’s great!” I usually get two types of questions:

First : “Where is District 34?” or “Am I in District 34?” If you are still wondering the same, we have maps of 34 here tonight. If you don’t live in 34, you can’t vote for me, but you can ADVOCATE for me. If elected, I will serve residents of 34 and all of Nashville. Please also find friends and family on the District 34 map, and be in touch with them, forward them my newsletter, and share my Facebook page. Your support in that way is invaluable.

Now the second type question I sometimes receive after telling people I’m running is: “Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

The answer to that is, yes, I absolutely know what I am getting into, and I am approaching this job with much optimism and enthusiasm. This job requires the ability to happily address the little things like a missed trash pick-up, a leaning stop sign, or a needed pot hole repair and the ability to tackle larger, and seemingly intractable, countywide issues. This job requires patience and a proactive and intentional attitude, and I have that in abundance.

I am well-suited to the job of a Metro Councilperson because I am a friendly, collaborative, consensus builder, and I’m also a tenacious problem solver. I don’t mind putting in long hours to get things done right. I have been an active civic volunteer in Nashville for 15 years, and I have learned volumes in my interaction with Metro Government. and its dauntingly numerous Departments and Boards—Public Works, Planning Department, the Water Department, the Parks Department, Metro Public Schools, the BZA, the MTA—you name it, I have met with them, emailed with them, and worked with them along with area non-profits, businesses, property owners and fellow neighborhood leaders. I want to bring that significant volunteer experience—those successes, frustrations, and challenges, and those hard-earned skills, to the service of our city.

This is an exciting and vibrant time to live in Nashville as more and more people are witnessing and testifying to our City’s many strengths. We are growing rapidly, and growth is good, but it comes with sizable challenges. We need smart growth. Growth that respects neighborhoods. We need legislators that can keep their eye on the ball and be proactive, rather than reactive, to be intentional rather than scattershot. It’s time for Metro Council to get serious.

In August, Nashville will be electing a new mayor, and over 60% percent of the Metro Council will be first time representatives. Every citizen in every district needs to pay close attention during this campaign season, ask the tough questions, and tell those running for office your concerns and your ideas. The work your elected city representatives do, or don’t do, affects you daily and deeply.

My opponent does not have the civic, non-profit, and neighborhood experience that I do, and EXPERIENCE MATTERS. I have the experience and the education to read, listen, question, analyze and address the complex issues our City faces related to population growth and zoning, education and workforce development, traffic and transit, budget and infrastructure—from Google Fiber to sewer pipes to sidewalks.

Nashville is doing a lot of things right. For example, if you call them, Metro Public Works will very promptly fill your pot hole or fix a leaning stop sign—but that’s the easy stuff. What Public Works does NOT do well is sidewalk infrastructure and bicycle infrastructure, because those are harder, and fraAEH_081nkly, when things get complex in this city, or involve multiple departments coordinating, too often they just don’t get done.

If your child cannot safely bike to their friend’s house without you worrying that they will be struck by a car, our city is not on the right track. If our seniors cannot safely cross the street when they are walking to the YMCA or the grocery store, our city is not on the right track. You need to elect someone who will not accept these failures and who is committed to making our city a safer and more enjoyable place for all children and families to live, learn, walk, bike, work and play.

Our City has kicked the can down the road on infrastructure, transit, and capital improvements to our schools for far too long, but the future has arrived, and by 2040 there will likely be a million more people living in our region. That’s just 25 years from now. Looking 25 years in reverse, 1990 doesn’t seem like very long ago. The time is now to prepare for that growth, and the person you need representing you in Council should not be someone who just got interested in these issues a few years ago. I’ve been tirelessly devoting the majority of my “free” time to reading and meeting, and understanding Nashville’s challenges and working to solve problems and create opportunities for 15 years.

I am asking for your support and your vote so that I can bring my experience and my skills inside the process of Metro Government and start getting things done. No one will work harder for you and your family than I will. No one will work harder for your neighborhood and your Nashville than I will.

With your help as a donor, a volunteer, an advocate or a voter, we’ll all be back together again on August 6th celebrating our VICTORY!

I hope you will make sure to chat with me before you leave. I am happy to answer any and all questions about where I stand on particular issues. I value being accessible, so you are welcome to email or call me anytime.

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